We have many reasons to be proud of Durham Public Schools, and our schools are worth defending.
In recent weeks, that message has been harder to hear. These are challenging times for public schools in North Carolina, and as an educator and superintendent my tendency has never been to sugarcoat the difficult truths.
This means that when I foresee a crisis – such as the impact of the state Senate’s K-3 class-size formulas on our ability to provide arts, music and physical education classes to our students – I will share it with our community. I will also always acknowledge the areas in which Durham Public Schools must improve to provide an equitable, excellent education for every student we serve.
Staff in our Central Services offices have gotten used to hearing me exclaim, “No spin!” when we talk about sharing information with you. Integrity is everything; you demand it of Durham Public Schools, and you should expect it of your superintendent. But it is not “spin” to remind you of some of the outstanding things that are happening in our schools, the achievements of our students and teachers, and the powerful community in Durham County that stands in support of public education.
So, while we always need to talk about how to improve our schools or protect them from shortsighted legislation, I would like to take a moment to remind you of some of our schools’ recent accomplishments.
Just this month, R.N. Harris Integrated Arts/Core Knowledge Magnet School was named one of the nation’s best urban schools by the National Center for Urban School Transformation. Principal Carolyn Pugh and her team are among 14 finalists for a Gold Award denoting the best of the best.
Also this month, Lara Brickhouse was named the national Adapted Physical Education Teacher of the Year. Rogers-Herr Middle won another Schools to Watch award identifying them as one of the nation’s best middle schools, and Lowe’s Grove Middle’s principal, Dr. Tekeisha Mitchell, was named one of our state’s best middle school administrators by the N.C. Association for Middle Level Education.
Six of our high schools – Jordan, Durham School of the Arts, Northern, City of Medicine Academy, Riverside and Hillside – were named among the top 10 percent of the nation in the Washington Post’s “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” survey. Durham School of the Arts, City of Medicine Academy and Early College were also ranked on the U.S. News and World Report Best High Schools list.
Three of our high schools – J.D. Clement Early College, City of Medicine Academy and Middle College at Durham Tech – achieved 100-percent graduation rates last year, with New Tech High and DSA following with better than 90 percent. Mangum Elementary, Early College and City of Medicine Academy earned “A+” state School Performance Grades.
Three of our magnet schools received awards of Excellence or Distinction from Magnet Schools of America: The School for Creative Studies, Morehead Montessori Elementary, and Lakewood Montessori Middle.
In recent years, two DPS principals have earned regional Principal of the Year honors in North Carolina, including Tonya Williams of Githens Middle (now principal of Riverside High) and Matt Hunt of Northern High (now principal of Merrick-Moore Elementary).
These are just a few highlights from the last few months and years of Durham Public Schools. Can we be a better school district for all of our students? Absolutely. Do we face significant challenges such as sharp cuts in state funding or charter school expansion? Of course.
But this is no time to be discouraged; that is exactly what opponents of public education want. Instead we need to recommit to improving our schools, celebrate their successes, and defend our teachers and staff. Even when I am sounding warnings or exhorting our schools and district to be more successful, I am deeply proud of our students, teachers, staff and school communities. We have work to do, but our schools and community are more than up to the task.
Bert L’Homme is the superintendent of Durham Public Schools.